Monday, March 31, 2008

El Tinklenberg -- pro-earmark candidate 

Elwyn Tinklenberg, running for the Congressional seat in the Sixth District, attacks incumbent Michele Bachmann for her vow to forgo earmarks this legislative session.

When 6th District Rep. Michele Bachmann recently pledged not to use the earmarking process to obtain federal funding, she could not have foreseen the emergency closing of a bridge in the heart of the largest city in her congressional district.

Therein lies the problem with taking extreme political positions that leave no room for the unexpected.

The Office of Management and Budget generally defines earmarks as "add-ons" to a general appropriation that direct additional spending to a very specific project. The problem being that too often the earmarks are "dropped" into committee reports and never seen by most of the Congress.

In 2005 earmark appropriations were estimated to total $18 billion. It was then that President Bush urged the Congress "to reform the budget process and expose every earmark to the light of day ... ."

The now-infamous $223 million "bridge to nowhere," in Alaska (almost as long as the Golden Gate and higher than the Brooklyn Bridge but only connects the 50 or so residents of Gravina Island to a city of 8,000), was an earmark obtained by Alaska Republican Congressman Don Young and often used as an example of earmarking excess.

Yet instead of citing the abuses of Young, Bachmann often is critical of Minnesota colleagues such as Jim Oberstar and Colin Peterson, who understand that earmarking is a legitimate response to important needs such as the I-35W bridge.

Well, El, our criticism of the Oberstar earmarks is not about the bridge but about the trails. Oberstar was quite proud of his 2005 bill that kicked a goodly bit of money into trails (I cannot even count them all.) But we continue:

The concern is that not all earmarks are "bridges to nowhere."

In fact, the emergency situation created by the closing of a bridge across the Mississippi in St. Could is a classic example of a time when earmarked funds can be an appropriate process. With what we know now, it's not clear that the DeSoto Bridge can be repaired, and there is some speculation it may stay closed until it can be replaced.

Originally scheduled to be replaced in 2016, that schedule could be accelerated if federal dollars could be secured to help pay for a new bridge; however, that appropriation would be an earmark � hence, the problem with Bachmann's pledge to not take earmarks for her district.

If the De Soto bridge is a project worthy of federal funds, then let Senators Klobuchar and Coleman and Rep. Bachmann enter a bill for the money. It may be attached to another bill for passage, but it would be owned by those people asking the government to spend the money.

My good friend Gary Gross comments in the chat on this article that the I-35W bridge is not an earmark. It was an appropriation and centerpiece of the legislation. The earmark reform people want is for spending to be accountable, not to forswear ever having an appropriation go to a specific project. To use the definition Tinklenberg chooses here would make the Tennessee Valley Authority an earmark.

But even more interesting is that Tinklenberg, rather than tack towards Bachmann on the earmark question, is willing to take a pro-earmark position. John Fund reports (quoted by the Club for Growth here) that Congress cannot get itself off the earmark habit even when it sees polls that strongly oppose it. It appears that the ability of people to even track them is being made more difficult now. Elect Tinklenberg, and he'll have an easier time sneaking a few in for us.

Hardly a profile in courage there. If he's going to be pro-earmark, you'd think he'd not want to hide his grabbing hand.

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